Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Fearing Differently

Lately I've engaged in a whole slew of conversations with women I love.  These conversations have circled back to a concept I've been tossing around for a bit here:  this idea of reconfiguring, re-evaluating where we are and where we want to head.  The patterns that emerged in all of our thinking have been truly striking.   I think we all do this (re-evaluate) all of the time, in big and small ways.  We formatively assess, we monitor and adjust, and repeat.  However, there also seems to be a time in life when this becomes a more and more "monumental" or "momentous" exercise.  Maybe, just maybe, as we grow older, we are more and more intentional about this practice; age incites a desire and a capability to move closer and closer to living as we truly want to be living--there's less time to continue to "make do."  And we cull and shed as necessary.

And I started thinking about what we embrace and what we fear at different points of our lives, and this quote from a book I finished on the plane a couple of weeks ago struck me:
"I used to believe everything my brother told me, because he was older and I figured he knew more about the world.  But, as it turns out, being a grown-up doesn't mean you're fearless.  It just means you fear different things."  --Jodi Picoult, Lone Wolf  (and, no, I'm not recommending the book; it was a fun airplane read, though.)

Fear has interesting adaptations as we age.  It seems to manifest as anxiety more than fear of any concrete "thing" any more.  A friend of mine and I used to joke about "general malaise"--an unidentifiable illness, but a clear sense that we weren't "well."  We used to ask each other, "Is it a general or specific malaise?"  The general malaise was always the more disconcerting, frankly, because we couldn't just "treat" it or find a solution.  And I think this is what makes adult fear such a strange beast to conquer.  We can't identify one thing or event that is causing pain or discomfort, but there is a compendium of symptoms that collide and become anxiety-inducing.  I came down with a cold this weekend, and it was so refreshing to simply say, "yes, indeed, these are the symptoms of a cold, and they will pass in a couple of days, in a predictable manner."  I could acknowledge, control, and ride through this.  Easy-peasy.

And so it goes.  I like my list of things I no longer fear at this age I am, and I'm starting to actually embrace the things I do fear (because there isn't really a choice here).  I do have some fear of life being an endless series of events that lack "woohoo!"  But I also acknowledge that I'm in charge of my own well-being.  I sometimes worry that I'm making choices that move me further and further from what I really want.  But I no longer fear that every decision I make is somehow singular and loaded with great import; I am grateful to realize that not everything happens "for a reason" in life (though, there are times, of course, when this salve would have made certain life events more palatable).  As I write this, I'm becoming aware of the fact that "fear" is not a word I enjoy using.  And a lot of this is because the things I fear most have happened in the past.  I'm not very afraid of my future; I'm more afraid that decisions I've made in my past have led me to a future that isn't what it could have been.  How much of a cliche is that?

There are certain decisions that affect things permanently.  And those?  Those you deal with.  And?  If I'm Pollyanna, I realize that those decisions have allowed other things to happen.  No matter who I am? I realize that those decisions have been made.  And that now is now.  And fear?  Fear is mostly a waste of time (unless you're in a life-threatening situation--then, only then, will it come in handy).   Fear will remind you whether you are to climb a tree or curl into a fetal position if you see a black bear.  It will create the impetus to cut loose people whose insecurities will eat you alive, and to look both ways before you cross the street.  Trust you.

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